When designing and manufacturing high- powered specialised lifting and materials handling equipment for the African and global market, local crane manufacturer Condra Cranes has relied on simplicity, adhering to its dictum of manufacturing machines that are simple to operate and easy to maintain.
The African market requires these types of machines, says Condra Cranes MD Marc Kleiner, adding that the simplistic approach to equipment design has enabled the company to make inroads in not only the South African market but also the South American and Canadian markets.
He notes that, while Condra Cranes’ versatility has enabled it to adapt and design lifting and other heavy-lifting equipment based on clients’ requirements, the company’s real value has been its ability to continue designing, manufacturing and supplying mechanical linkages and gears instead of foregoing mechanical equipment to completely adopt digital technologies.
Nevertheless, Kleiner acknowledges the benefits of incorporating digital technology for specific applications and markets, highlighting a crane that the company built for diamond miner De Beers’ Venetia operations, located in Limpopo.
The crane features a three-dimensional display in the cabin, with signal lights for every function it completes. Kleiner explains that all the lights on the display have to be green for the crane to be operational and that the crane will signal where a fault is if this is not the case.
However, he notes that, using such a crane in some regions across Africa is not always the most suitable option, because, if it were to be used in remote locations, the technicians required to service the equipment would need to travel long distances.
Kleiner notes that, depending on the location of an operation, a technician could take up to two days to arrive on site, with a service normally taking a day. In such a scenario, companies would be required to pay the technician for up to five days of work.
Therefore, he reiterates that digital equipment requires more expertise and niche tools, compared with mechanical equipment that requires a set of spanners and a tester kit, reiterating that digital equipment tends to escalate maintenance costs.
“Condra Cranes, however, strives to design machines that can be fixed by making a phone call, to get the machine operating as soon as possible,” Kleiner assures.
Impact of Importing
Kleiner tells Engineering News that local manufacturers are becoming more aware of the detrimental impact of importing machines from other countries.
For example, he explains that, when equipment fails, companies face much downtime as the equipment parts also have to be imported.
“What we’ve observed among our competitors from whom many South African companies import, is that they are not doing well worldwide, owing to economic pressures [therefore] plants are no longer buying capital equipment but instead servicing and repairing what they have,” says Kleiner.
Subsequently, when there are no capital projects, companies focus on the maintenance and servicing their machines, which is seen as capital-intensive because of the potential costs companies can incur when they service their equipment.
Europe is realising this and is, therefore, investing in simpler, more reliable equipment, which might be more expensive initially, but cheaper to maintain.
Kleiner explains that it is not the initial cost that companies should be worried about when buying equipment. Companies should rather be prepared to pay more for quality equipment that will save them money when it comes to maintenance, as servicing and maintenance are ongoing and can affect bottom-line profits.
Meanwhile, Condra Cranes has expanded its global footprint by supplying hoisting equipment to countries outside South Africa, including Canada and Russia.
“We started doing well in Canada’s potash mining operations. Potash is a corrosive substance and, if thin steel plate is used, that equipment will be completely eroded within a couple of months. However, our equipment is more durable and robust and, therefore, lasts longer,” says Kleiner.
Crane Life Span
He tells Engineering News that Condra Cranes builds its lifting and hoisting equipment to last for more than 20 years, despite intended new industry regulations that have decreased the life span of a crane to ten years.
“The proposed new regulations require operators to keep their cranes for ten years instead of 20 and, as a result, people are buying cheaper equipment,” he says.
Cranes are now designed based on their fatigue line, which calculates that if it is used for a certain amount of hours, it would have reached its fatigue limit in ten years and will need to be replaced.
“However, we don’t make machines like that. Our machines are built for the long haul and are not meant to be replaced often,” Kleiner concludes.